gun ownershipGun laws change frequently and legislation is different between England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

MPs frequently debate different aspects of gun law, gun licensing and a few years ago the laws on general licences and shooting were thrown into uproar after unexpected changes.

16 gun laws every responsible shooter needs to know

  1. If you own a shotgun or rifle then you must have a valid shotgun or firearms certificate.
  2. It is against the law to make an untrue statement when you apply for or renew a shotgun or firearms certificate. Do not withold details of past or ‘spent’ convictions or you may be prosecuted. You will need to give details of any previous convictions, including all motoring offences except fixed penalty and parking tickets, whether still recorded on your driving licence or not and whether in Britain or abroad. Informal cautions do not need to be mentioned, but formal written cautions and conditional or absolute discharges do. You can pay the Criminal Records Office for a subject access disclosure, which details all information held about you on the Police National Computer.
  3. In both England and Wales it is against the law to shoot on a public highway or from the verges. It is also an offence if when shooting within 50ft of the centre of a highway someone is injured or put in danger. A highway is any road on which the public can drive a vehicle but does not include footpaths, cycle tracks or bridleways.
  4. You cannot buy a shotgun or ammunition until the age of 18.
  5. At 15 it is lawful to be given or lent a gun by somebody who has a shotgun certificate.
  6. You must be 15 before you can use a shotgun without being supervised by an adult (who must be at least 21).
  7. Young Shots who have a shotgun certificate of their own can borrow a shotgun for up to 72 hours.
  8. If a firearm or shotgun certificate holder is under 18, an individual aged 18 or over must assume responsibility for the secure storage of the firearms and ammunition held on the young person’s certificate.
  9. There is no minimum age to get a shotgun certificate but you have to be 14 to have a firearms certificate.
  10. It is a criminal offence not to notify police when you acquire or dispose of a shotgun. Many licensing departments offer helpful forms on their websites. You can use one of these or send an e mail to the firearms licensing department address on the website. The e mail needs to contain your name and address, your certificate number, the gun details – bore, type, make, model, serial number – and the seller’s details (or the buyer’s in the case of a disposal). Ask for an e mail read receipt and keep a printed copy of the e mail. Armed with that, you can see off any future allegations that you failed to notify a transfer.
  11. Scottish residents need to include airguns on their firearms certificate. If you are visiting Scotland and want to take an airgun you need to apply for a visitor’s permit.
  12. It is illegal to be drunk in charge of a loaded gun and an offence to transfer a firearm or ammunition to anyone believed to be drunk. (This includes loaders handing over a gun.)
  13. Do not use lead ammunition to shoot wildfowl. It is illegal and you risk a criminal conviction and a large fine.  
  14. Gun cabinets must be lockable and securely clamped at four points to a solid wall.
  15. Only the owner of a gun certificate should have access to the gun cabinet and you cannot tell a partner who does not have a certificate where the keys are.
  16. There is no offence in having an unloaded shotgun with you in a public place. It’s covered by Section 19 of the Firearms Act which says:“A person commits an offence if, without lawful authority or reasonable excuse (the proof whereof lies on him) he has with him in a public place

    (a) a loaded shot gun

    (b) an air weapon (whether loaded or not)

    (c) any other firearm (whether loaded or not) together with ammunition suitable for use in that firearm, or

    (d) an imitation firearm.”

    However, in these days of heightened security it is unwise to carry around a shotgun in public, even if it is unloaded and in a gunslip.Be discreet if you need to transport your shotgun, break it down, wrap the parts in something to protect them and put them into a rucksack, along with the slip. It’s never a good idea to carry a gun in public in a gun-shaped case, it attracts attention.

The law on buying shotgun cartridges

Q: I know that I have to show my shotgun licence when buying cartridges. Someone has told me that if I give another person permission they can buy them for me. As my girlfriend works in the next street to the gun shop, it would be handy if she could pick some up for me, but is this allowed?

A: Subsection 5(2) of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 covers this. Sub-subsection c) provides that the person purchasing the cartridges “produces a certificate authorising another person to possess such 
a gun together with that person’s written authority to purchase the ammunition on his behalf”.

All you need to do is give your girlfriend your shotgun certificate — not a copy — together with a letter to the gun shop owner saying that you give her authority to buy the cartridges for you. The authority 
can be given without date, so that she can keep you topped up with cartridges throughout the season.

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How far do shotgun pellets travel?

Q: Just how far do shotgun pellets travel? I want to carry out some crop protection on a 15-acre field I own. There are public roads on two sides of it. Obviously I want to keep things safe and stay within the law. I am wondering what is the considered…

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Airgun laws and security requirements you need to know

Are you up to speed on airgun laws? Can a parent, friend or relative buy a youngster an airgun? Here’s a query we recently received from a concerned parent. Q: Can my ex-husband buy an air rifle for our nine-year-old? Is it legal? My son seems a bit young for…

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Moving house and your gun certificates – what you need to know

When you’re moving house you want everything to run as smoothly as possible. But what should you do if you’re a gun owner? What are the legalities to obey concerning a firearms or shotgun certificate when you’re moving house? (Read the law on moving gun cabins to a different location.) I…

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Do I have to tell the police my shotgun is being repaired?

Q: I need to put my shotgun into a gunsmith for restoring and servicing. When I do so, do I have to tell the police my shotgun is being repaired? A: No, because this is a temporary process that does not constitute a transfer. When you take it in, ask…

Break the gun down into component parts so you don't miss anything

Can I break my gun down into parts to store it?

Knowing the method of breaking a gun into parts is a very useful skill to have – particularly when you’re maintaining and cleaning your shotgun.  But is it acceptable to break down your gun into components for storage so that you can fit it into a smaller space? That’s exactly…

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Storing guns in the attic: is it legal?

I’ve recently got into shooting and have applied for my shotgun certificate. I know that I need a gun cabinet and I’m thinking of storing guns in the attic in it. Is this a good location – after all it’s discreet and out of the way. Will the guns be…

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What’s the law on inheriting a shotgun?

Some months after my father passed away the police told my mother that because his shotgun certificate had lapsed she should hand his gun to the local gun shop.

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Shotgun storage advice from a firearms officer

When you’re the owner of a gun you need to be vigilant about firearms security. So we asked an expert for his shotgun storage advice, gathered from years of experience. Because the last thing you want to happen is for your gun to fall into the wrong hands. Shotguns storage…

Alcohol, guns and the law

We’re asked whether we abuse alcohol when we apply for a shotgun certificate or firearms licence. I was reading this and I started thinking about drinking and guns. All responsible shooters should protect the reputation of their sport and think carefully about the mix of alcohol, guns and the law.…

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Can I go camping with my shotgun?

Camping with shotguns – legal or illegal? Q: I’m planning on going camping with some friends when the weather gets warmer and we’re going to pitch our tents on some farmland where we have a roughshooting permission. The farmer is happy for us to camp there and carry out some…

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Can I leave a shotgun at my holiday home?

All being well, we’ll be able to go further afield this summer and for those of you lucky to have another property, you could well be wondering if it’s legal to leave a shotgun at a holiday home so that you can do a bit of roughshooting when you’re down…

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I forgot to tell the police about my new gun in time. Now what?

Gun notification is a legal commitment when you’re a shooter. You need to tell the police about owning a new firearm within seven days of buying one.  So what happens if you get busy and communicating the purchase of a new gun slips your mind? Here’s what our legal expert…